August 23, 2018

Chicago Department of Aviation Welcomes the Grazing Herd Back to O'Hare

The fifth year of the grazing herd initiative to clear vegetation near the airfield and enhance safety at one of the world’s busiest airports

CHICAGO - The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) today welcomed the return of a herd of grazing animals to manage natural vegetation at one of the world’s busiest airports.  The grazing herd—comprised of a mix of 30 goats, sheep, and a donkey named Jackson—will be on hand at O’Hare International Airport for the next several weeks to manage vegetation, including tall grasses, on 16 acres of land on the west side of the airfield.

The initiative, originally a pilot program and now in its fifth season, is another example of an aviation industry-leading effort that highlights the CDA's commitment to sustainability.

“We are proud to continue with a focus on sustainable practices at O’Hare by hosting the grazing herd for its fifth year at O’Hare,” said CDA Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee. “Through this program and in partnership with the USDA, we are committed to embracing environmentally-friendly alternatives to ensure our airports have a positive impact on the surrounding ecosystem as we grow in the next several years.”

This year’s herd will graze on approximately 35 acres along the embankments of Willow-Higgins Creek. Over the past few summers, a herd of sheep and goats has helped the CDA to maintain green space near the runways, and to support a healthy ecosystem surrounding our airfield, while mitigating wildlife hazards to aircraft.

The herd provides an eco-friendly means of clearing overgrown and invasive vegetation in the following ways: 

  • Reduces natural vegetation harboring wildlife near runways, which could impact aircraft during takeoff.   
  • Eliminate's air pollution otherwise caused by a lawnmower.
  • Delivers a sustainable means for maintaining essential green space and safe conditions near the airfield.

The grazing herd, also known as a sustainable vegetation management initiative, at O’Hare International Airport first began in 2013, and is one of many sustainable practices spearheaded by the CDA in recent years—from roof top green space to compostable cutlery for concessions to water bottle refilling stations in the terminals.

The CDA’s sustainability programs, including new sustainable infrastructure installed since 2011, align with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vision and leadership in making Chicago the most sustainable city in the country. These investments have reduced electricity and natural gas usage to make Chicago’s busy aviation system more environmentally-friendly even as passenger volumes have risen. 

The grazing herd, made possible through consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), will be on hand through the fall or until the vegetation is fully cleared.

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